Notes from the Port of Oswego Authority. Birth of the Port, Part III

As 1954 dawned, Oswego and Albany were ready, apparently, for the legislation that would establish the new Oswego Port Authority.  A completely new OswegoCity government was installed, with a new mayor, Robert Iles, and an all-new Council who supported the idea.  Operation Oswego and its leader, Hosmer Culkin supported the idea, and the necessary legislation had been sponsored and introduced in Albany.

From January 18 through January 25, 1954, the Oswego Palladium Times (OPT) published on the editorial page (p. 6), in seven consecutive issues, sections from the new Oswego Port Authority legislation in Albany.  That was an extraordinary dedication of newspaper resources to present specific language from what may have been the most important legislation regarding the Oswego area to appear on the New York legislative calendar for some time.  Those seven OPT articles detailed the powers of the proposed Oswego Port Authority in the exact language of the introduced bill, educating  Oswegonians about the new and very different status envisioned for Oswego’s 154 year-old port.

The Oswego Port Authority bill was passed in March by the NY State Assembly.  A dispute flared up on Sunday, March 21, however, “…after failure of the Oswego Port Authority bill to pass the state Senate….” (OPT, 3-23-54, p. 14).  Senator Henry A. Wise, from Watertown, had apparent misgivings about the bill, and had it bottled up in the Senate Finance Committee, preventing the bill from reaching the Senate floor for a vote.

The dispute developed when Sen. Wise decided that he was going to be “unfairly saddled” by people in Oswego with defeat of the bill, and he stated that “errors” and the “refusal to heed advice” by proponents of the bill were the reasons for the bill’s failure.  Mayor Iles issued a “stinging statement” (OPT, 3-23-54, p. 14) on Sunday, responding, “Mr. Wise said that errors were responsible for the failure of this bill in the Senate.  As we all know in Oswego the bill passed in the Assembly unanimously.  Is Mr. Wise then asking us to believe that the Assembly passes bills shot through with errors?  And why, if it contained those errors, did he sponsor it?”

At its meeting, Monday night, March 22, 1954, the Oswego Common Council unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Alderman Leslie P. Cloonan that said (OPT, 3-23-54, p. 14),

“Whereas, the Common Council of the City of Oswego has heretofore unanimously expressed itself in favor of creation of a Port Authority for the city of Oswego, and

“Whereas, a bill to create such an authority was introduced in both the Assembly and the Senate of the state of New York, during the last session of the State Legislature, and

“Whereas, the said bill was unanimously passed by said Assembly but was never presented for a vote in the Senate, now therefore be it

“Resolved, That the City Clerk forthwith communicate with Senator Henry A. Wise and request him to furnish the Common Council a complete report concerning the failure of the bill to be presented to the Senate for a vote, together with his opinion of the reasons for such failure.”

On Tuesday morning, March 23, Sen. Wise wired (telegraphed) Mayor Iles (OPT, 3-23-54, p. 14), “See by papers that you will ask Oswego city council to request me to make report on Port bill.   If you invite me to appear before city council next Monday night, shall be glad to make statement and be available to questions and would like to ask some questions myself.  Please reply direct to me.”

Mayor Iles responded within minutes after receiving Sen. Wise’s wire, advising him that a special meeting of the Common Council was scheduled for Monday, March 29, at 8:00 p.m., the meeting was to be public, and that he was cordially invited to attend.

The headline in the OPT on Tuesday, March 30 (p.2) read, “Senator Wise’s Criticism of

Oswego Port Authority Bill Leads to Hot Debate.”  Most of page 2 and almost two full columns on page 3 were devoted to Monday night’s Council meeting with Sen. Wise.

Wise’s prepared remarks were published in their entirety.  In his remarks, he characterized the bill as a “sow’s ear,” saying he could not make a “silk purse” of it.  He said of the bill, “You have not had much opportunity to study it because its sponsors likely didn’t want you to know what was in it.  Otherwise they would have had it published.  They knew you would not have stood for it if you knew what it was.”  He then went to great lengths quibbling about procedures of appointment of Port Authority board members.  Then, he alluded to a “small group of “proponents” of the bill who “stuck” the Mayor, the Common Council, the City Attorney and Sen. Wise, himself, with this “phony” bill.

Finally, he concluded that the bill was a hoax on the people of Oswego and an attempt to (1) “take the harbor out of the hands of the Common Council and the voters.” (2) “to get rid of the Harbor and Dock Commission,” (3) “to put him on the spot” (politically), and (4) “to build up one of the ‘brain trust’ as a candidate for public office—like State Senator.”  In other words, secretly to make Hosmer Culkin a potential primary opponent of Sen. Wise in the 1954 election!

Reading about the debate that evening was very interesting.  Of course, it was pointed out to Sen. Wise that the local newspaper had published the entire bill over a period of several days, as well as any new language that appeared during the legislative discussions in Albany.

The next day, a headline appeared saying, “Culkin Asserts He Is Not Candidate for Any Office.”  The sub-title further read, “President of Operation Oswego Flays Senator Wise’s Statement on Port Authority Bill As ‘Insult To Intelligence’ Of Oswego People” (OPT, 3-31-54, p. 14).

The whole matter resurfaced during the fall election when Joseph P. Ross opposed Sen. Wise for his Senate seat.  The headline read, “Ross Flays Wise on Attitude On Port Authority” (OPT, 10-26-54, p. 3).  Sen. Wise won the election in 1954; the Oswego Port Authority bill died an unnatural death!


Terrence M. Hammill

201 West 2nd Street, #302

Oswego, NY  13126


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